Gatrell delivers enrollment report to Faculty Senate

JJ Bullock, Editor-in-Chief

Eastern Provost Jay Gatrell delivered Eastern’s tenth day enrollment numbers, conveying a message of overall positivity and growth, to the Faculty Senate Tuesday.

Gatrell reported to the senate that overall head count, which includes high school dual credit students and online students, increased 3.7 percent from last year to a total of 7,526. The senate was also informed that first-time freshman enrollment is up 12.5 percent, with Fall 2019’s freshman class totaling 888 students. Freshman and sophomore enrollment overall is up 10 percent on-campus.

On-campus headcount overall, the figure which describes the actual number of students on-campus taking classes, is down again, this time decreasing 3.25 percent from 5,082 students in Fall 2018 to 4,917 students in Fall 2019.

Gatrell explained to the senate however that this number is a reflection of what is known as an enrollment tail. Enrollment tails can be seen over the course of four-year enrollment cycles, which the university uses to evaluate growth and enrollment, and occur when the size of graduating classes and incoming classes fluxuate significantly.

“The key to looking at enrollment growth is to look at, over the course of a four-year cycle, is ‘are you improving?’” Gatrell said. “So we have had two very positive cycles (Fall 2018, Fall 2019) that are significantly larger than what would have been (Fall 2016, Fall 2017), as those people graduate and enrollments continue to increase, we will see continued growth on campus.”

“So overall, we feel very positive about the trajectory and where we are,” Gatrell added. “So, we are seeing net-positive growth in the lower division level and so it is a function of we are on a trajectory and we are making progress.”

The faculty senate was very pleased with Gatrell’s enrolment report, according to the senate’s vice-chair Jeff Stowell.

“Of course we have a great investment in our students and that’s why we’re here, we love to have them,” Stowell said.

The senate, for the second meeting in a row, also discussed the ongoing concern surrounding the sustainability and the future of textbook rental services at Eastern.

The current textbook rental system at Eastern is set up so that students, regardless of the department they are in, pay a fixed fee based on credit hours for textbooks. The money from that collected fee is then used to pay for their textbooks and the textbooks of any other student or department as needed.

The challenge, which the senate discussed, is the sustainability of that model, Stowell said.

The sustainability issue lies in that some publishers of textbooks no longer print hard copies of materials required for courses and switch to digital or online textbooks. The problem arises in the purchasing of those materials. When a hard copy textbook is purchased by the university, it can be used year-after-year until it needs to be replaced. The digital versions need to be repurchased every year.

“As a senate, our hope is that we can, for one, find possible solutions that would be amenable to faculty, that would work well for students, to help get the material we need for our classes,” Stowell said. “Faculty Senate may play a role in helping gather information that would be helpful in making those decisions.”

There is currently a textbook advisory committee in place at Eastern, which serves to advise the Textbook Rental staff. However, changes over the years in staffing at Eastern and people moving around has halted the progress of the textbook advisory committee.

“It seems like every so often we come up with a committee that gets really excited to do something and then something changes and it gets tabled and we pick it up again, and so we are hoping that we can get some momentum this time because we really are facing a different world in terms of materials and textbooks,” Stowell said.

The senate also touched on concerns surrounding the staffing and availability of a testing center at Eastern. Eastern’s testing center used to serve students out of 9th Street Hall, but during Eastern’s fiscal crunch, that service went away. This left faculty and staff with a logistical issue of what to do with students who did indeed need special accommodations when it came to taking tests.

Departments have been left to find their own solutions on this matter in the absence of a testing center.

The issue, however, with having a testing center is financial, as staffing a center would be costly and would likely require a workday that spanned from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

“Finding a way that just best serves our students needing accommodations,” Stowell said of a possible solution. “Whether that is finding a model that departments are able to staff to meet the demands of the time and resources required to help those students or whether or not it is something more centrally located where we could have equal support across campus for all of our students who need accommodations.”

Stowell said the question the senate had was which options were finacially feasable for Eastern.

JJ Bullock can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected].